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UK slashes millions in funding to Afghan children 

27th March, London- The UK government is slashing almost £6 million in funding to a programme in Afghanistan just months after committing to supporting thousands of vulnerable women and girls, leaving them in limbo and facing the potential of devastating consequences, Save the Children said.

The programme has been supporting over 100,000 people access essential services such as healthcare through clinics- which for many children across Afghanistan is one of the only ways to access life-saving treatment for severe malnutrition, particularly for those in remote areas. The programme also delivers education classes to vulnerable women and girls across Afghanistan, a life-line for many who face the risk of early marriage, violence and other forms of exploitation. But critical programming may now be forced to close this month due to the UK’s decision to pull back funding.

Gwen Hines, Save the Children UK CEO said:

“Afghan children are already dying from hunger and disease, and now face having funding for basic food, health and education programmes withdrawn by the British Government.

“The decision to cut millions in funding to Afghan children sends a stark message to the world that the UK is turning its back on the most vulnerable children and families in one of the world’s most challenging contexts. The UK’s ongoing rhetoric that it supports women and girls in Afghanistan now rings hollow as the UK risks taking away the very services that people rely on for their survival.

“This decision is a blow to the hopes and dreams of millions of children who deserve a better future.”

Latest data shows that about 28 million people – more than half the population - including 14 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. About 97% of Afghans are at risk of falling below the poverty line this year. Over 1.1 million children aged under five are acutely malnourished.

This withdrawal of funding is happening against a backdrop of significant cuts to UK’s aid. Despite the heavily reduced total aid budget- from 0.7% GDI (£15.2 billion) in 2019 to 0.5% (£11.4 billion) in 2021, the government is spending around a third- as high as £4.5 billion this financial year on hosting refugees in the UK. MPs have called  this trend ‘unsustainable’. Save the Children and campaigners are calling for these costs to be covered outside of the aid budget, instead of forcing programmes like the one in Afghanistan to be cancelled to find the funds.

The cuts in Afghanistan come almost three months since the Taliban issued a decree banning Afghan women from working for non-government organisations (NGOs). Many women and children have and continue to miss out on life-saving aid during the most severe winter in more than a decade and the country’s worst hunger crisis on record. NGOs, like Save the Children, have been working tirelessly to restore their work across the country.

Save the Children has been able to resume a significant proportion of programming including the affected projected after receiving clear, reliable assurances from the relevant authorities that female staff will be safe and can work without obstruction. But the rug has now been pulled out from under this programme by the British Government, said the aid agency.

The programme, known as Supporting Afghanistan’s Basic Services (SABS), started to be funded in December 2022, helping families access vital healthcare, nutrition and education, across eight provinces in the country, with a particular focus on women and girls. But almost immediately after the UK’s funding started, in the same month, Save the Children was informed that the funding would be drastically reduced and few weeks later, told it would end entirely.

Originally, the aid agency was promised £7million to deliver the programme in Afghanistan, but will only receive just over £1million. The project was initially intended to continue until December 2023, but may now end this month- nine months earlier than originally planned. Save the Children has been left scrambling to secure funds to continue their work, jeopardising hundreds of thousands of Afghan families' access to essential services.

Just two weeks ago, the UK government launched their International Women and Girls Strategy, promising to ‘put women and girls at the heart of FCDO’s work’. But with the UK now leaving thousands of vulnerable Afghan women and children in uncertainty, it has already become an empty promise said Save the Children.

Save the Children calls on the UK government to restore its aid spending to 0.7% of GNI to prevent a continual cycle of uncertainty and cuts for the world’s poorest people.

Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976 to deliver life-saving services to children and their families across the country.